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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Terry Venables on Duncan Edwards

BY THE time I was 15, it looked like I was going to be a good footballer. I was a big lad for my age, and the newspapers were calling me the new Duncan Edwards, the young hero at Manchester United. I was so flattered that I have kept those cuttings to this day. In the restaurant at my club, Scribes West, there is an oil painting of Edwards. He was my hero and an inspiration. When I was growing up, there was no televised football to speak of, and if you wanted to see a particular player or team, it meant going to one of their matches. It was February 1958 and United had just caused a stir by beating Bolton 7-2, and everyone was talking about Duncan Edwards. So I persuaded my dad, Fred, to come with me to Highbury to see United play Arsenal. It was an unusual trip for two committed Spurs fans, and a day I will never forget. United won a smashing match 5-4, but what happened afterwards gave the occasion a dreadful poignancy that still lingers. Just four days later, the Busby Babes were decimated by the Munich air crash. Along with everyone else, I was devastated. So many died so young - my hero among them. It was a terrible tragedy, too awful to dwell on. I prefer to remember that lovely day out with my dad, standing behind the goal at the old Clock end at Highbury. It took Duncan Edwards less than 10 minutes to show us what all the fuss was about. I remember I was a bit disappointed that United weren't at full strength. With the European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade only four days away, Matt Busby rested his centre-half, Jackie Blanchflower, the two wingers, David Pegg and Johnny Berry, and the clever, creative inside-forward, Liam Whelan. Mind you, it was still a hell of a team, with a forward line that included Bobby Charlton, Tommy Taylor and Dennis Viollet, supported from half-back by Eddie Colman and the man I couldn't take my eyes off, Duncan Edwards. Jack Kelsey, a legend at Highbury, was in goal for Arsenal but, good as he was, he was beaten all the way when Duncan opened the scoring with a cracking shot. That was my moment. We had travelled in to see him and, with the latecomers still arriving, he had me turning to my dad with a "Did you see that" look. Edwards had taken a pass from Viollet and strode forward like an unstoppable giant before shooting past Kelsey from 25 yards. There were eight more goals in a fantastic match, but Duncan's, and his overall performance, are all I really remember. Afterwards, I just couldn't get it out of my head how good United were. Duncan was marvellous.

Everything he did comes back to me as if it was yesterday. Such strength, such poise. We are talking about a long time ago - nearly 40 years - but I can still see him, and that tremendous power of his, even now. He was only 21, but already he had played for England 18 times, and there were far fewer internationals played in those days. I was always Tottenham through and through, and it was not so much the Busby Babes as the Spurs Double side that gave me a feeling for how I wanted to play the game, but I stood there that day thinking Edwards was a wonderful player, and that I wanted to play like him. United were the best around at the time, and he was their star man. I had heard tales of this real-life Roy of the Rovers a few years before. People at Chelsea spoke of a Youth Cup tie against United. Chelsea had an outstanding team that day, Jimmy Greaves and Peter Brabrook included, but the story goes that a storm broke during the game. Edwards scored two goals playing at centre-forward, then when United turned round at half-time, and had the storm against them, they played him at centre-half, and he won everything. He was blessed with an all-round ability no one had ever seen before. This was a guy who played for England at 18, unheard of in those days. Physically, he was an impressive specimen, with legs like tree trunks, which gave him unmistakable power. He usually played at left-half, but centre-half or centre-forward was no problem for him because he had everything. He was a great tackler, he was a good passer, he scored goals and he was a rock in defence. He was left-footed, but he could use the right, too. It was exciting to look at him and think how good he was going to be, and for him to be cut down like that was too tragic for words. No one can know what he might have achieved had he lived and gone on. It is a great disappointment to me, not knowing what he might have become. He was potentially the greatest player I've seen. Duncan played in the same position as Bobby Moore, and we'll never know what might have happened in 1966 if he had still been around. He would have been only 29. Perhaps Bobby would have got in the team in another position, because he was a great player, too, but you would never have picked Moore in front of Edwards. Duncan had the edge everywhere, with his remarkable power, pace and strength in the air.

Quite simply, Duncan Edwards had the lot.


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